Since publishing The Lean Turnaround I have been speaking and visiting companies actively, and I am asked this question on a daily basis. People ask this question in many ways, including “How do I get my board of directors on board with lean?” Most of the time this question reflects either a lack of understanding of lean, or a belief that lean just won’t work in a person’s specific company. But in just about every situation this question goes to the heart of the problem of implementing lean in any company: the lack of leadership.
Having led more than 30 lean turnarounds in 14 different countries since 1982, I’ve seen several powerful ways individuals can tackle this problem. First and foremost, remember that you are the CEO of one starting point for your company’s lean turnaround. You probably control one area of your company. It could be a division, a plant, or a product line. It could be some other functional area like order entry, accounting, or new product development. If you are an individual contributor, say a kaizen leader, you will probably need to convince one of the managers in your operation to work with you.
Then I recommend that you start by implementing a “a model line” — a demonstration project if you will—in your area. I suggest that you do this quietly at first (you don’t want someone to stop you) and that you work with diligence and discipline to take your lean work to a high level. Once this is working smoothly you should have clear results that enable you to convince your boss to expand your work to the next plant or department. Eventually you should have enough of a basis to convince senior management that a) this works in your company, b) it gives great results, and c) it will work in all areas of the company.
Experience has taught me that lean is a strategic way of doing business that cannot be delegated down, that it must be led by the CEO in a hands-on, out-front, out in the gemba-way. But I also recognize that very few companies have that type of leadership in place. So if you recognize the power of lean and are committed to getting started, I suggest you lead by launching your model line. It is much harder to implement lean in a bottom up way like this, but it is certainly not impossible. Don’t get discouraged, keep pushing.